They say the sequel is always worse than the original. But after a three year gap between the acclaimed first installment in the Jaguar series and its new sister project, Victoria Monét’s emergence from the depths with the slick JAGUAR II (2023) beats the follow-up curse and allows her to sneak into her well-deserved spotlight.
Monét has quietly but steadily built a name for herself in the music industry by penning hit songs for a number of artists in various genres (including Ariana Grande, Blackpink, and Lupe Fiasco) while simultaneously releasing numerous R&B EPs. Her last project, the acclaimed JAGUAR (2020), marked the start of a new era, what was supposed to be a trilogy of EPs. However, because of production delays, the trilogy was shortened into a duology and JAGUAR II was transformed into a full-length project, making this finale in the Jaguar series the singer’s debut studio album.
JAGUAR II may be arriving years after JAGUAR, but the album picks up right where its predecessor left off, with cover art that deepens the parallels she first made between herself and the wild cat with her previous EP. To embody the nature of the stalk-and-ambush predator, Monét is depicted with a mysterious gaze that pierces the darkness of the night sky, rising from murky water to stare you down with eyes twinkling like the stars sprinkled around her. Is she in hiding—or is she about to pounce? In JAGUAR II, Monét brilliantly keeps you guessing by consistently toeing the line between subtlety and superstardom.
Starting with seduction, Monét reels us into her feel-good world of relaxation with opener “Smoke.” Beginning with a soaring vocal chorus followed by a groovy Pharrell-esque four-count, the track is a smooth tribute to marijuana. Wavy twangs of a funk guitar sink us into a sweltering fever dream. “Little fireworks that light up for me, in my fingertips I burn my worries”: the singer paints a gorgeous picture, beckoning us to join in the festivities and match her high (“you don’t even gotta ask you know I got some” she reassures us). Monét’s hypnotic first track warms up her listeners for the sultry landscape she’s built in her latest album, a home fit for the titular animal.
To continue this tone, JAGUAR II performs a fascinating balancing act by maintaining tight sonic cohesion while playing with genre-fusion. Monét demonstrates mastery over R&B, bending the genre to her will while tapping into other sounds to further mold the album’s tropical feel. The art of blending genres is not new to Monét; the first entry in the Jaguar series was praised for its tinges of funk and disco. However, this album searches a little wider for its influences. Caribbean-infused “Party Girls” uses sensual reggae basslines to transport you to a world of sweltering heat with the help of Jamaican music legend Buju Banton’s energetic vocals. The next track “Alright” sees Grammy-award winning producer Kaytranada incorporate elements of house and dance to create a different kind of party anthem that’s just as heated, with simmering hi-hats and pop synth claps fit for the club. On paper, this might result in a clumsy cacophony of sounds. But, as with everything she does, Monét executes this feat with ease, keeping things understated to prevent any element from overpowering another. On JAGUAR II, Monét cements herself as a distinct figure in the modern R&B soundscape—an artist whose firm grasp on the genre makes her potential limitless, yet still grounded in her visions of sleekness.
While Monét generally maintains equilibrium between cohesion and innovation, there are moments where JAGUAR II gets swept up in its pursuit of a slick style. On an album so brief, including any track that doesn’t add anything new to the soundscape feels like a waste. “How Does It Make You Feel” is guilty of this crime. Even its use of layered live instrumentation and varying time signatures isn’t enough to make the mellow song stand out, leaving it feeling more like an unevolved product of the Jaguar ethos.
Monét may keep her sound subtle, but how she speaks about herself is anything but. Her exploration of self-assuredness shines through her aesthetics of mystery. On “Hollywood,” Monét reflects on her position in the industry. Referencing her involvement in performing arts from a young age, Monét calls herself a product of the titular hub of entertainment. But while Monét’s main claim to fame may have been as the genius behind other artists’ hits, she makes it clear through tracks like “I’m The One” and “Cadillac (A Pimp’s Anthem)” that she will not let the power in her quiet presence be ignored any longer. “We keep it smooth like a Cadillac,” she croons, “with the diamond spinners in the back,” comparing herself to the luxury vehicle and deeming herself just as slick. But just because she keeps things classy doesn’t mean she isn’t a worthy threat: “this pussy ain’t no alley cat, we comin’ from the jungle.”
All the forces behind Monét’s subtle starpower coalesce at the album’s middle in the standout track “On My Mama,” the single that creeped its way into the Billboard Hot 100 months after its release. Borrowing from hip-hop traditions, Monét builds the track around rapper Chalie Boy’s 2009 hit “I Look Good.” Sampling has long been a defining practice in hip-hop but with a flurry of sample-driven hits sweeping the charts as of late (such as Nicki Minaj’s “Super Freaky Girl” and Coi Leray’s “Players”), many are starting to critique the “lazy” and “obvious” choices in contemporary popular music’s sampling methods. Monét avoids these shortcomings by breathing new life into the decade-old track, whose confident message fits seamlessly with JAGUAR II’s feel-good nature. Blending Monét’s trademark glossy style with the sample’s braggadocious sound, “On My Mama” continues the nostalgic feel of the album as she pulls from sounds of past and present. Paired with a cinematic music video that gives the singer the chance to demonstrate her versatility as a dancer, the song has all the makings of a stepping stone to superstardom.
With JAGUAR II, Monét closes a chapter of her musical career. Perhaps that’s why the final track, “Good Bye” is unexpectedly emotional. Monét accepts that a relationship has come to an end and recognizes that it’s time to move on. Still holding feelings of love and desire, she suggests that they end things on a high note by sharing one more night of intimacy. Emotional lyrics paired with groovy instrumentation evoke a bittersweet aftertaste in the best way, emphasized by a lush outro that is reluctant to fade out (“if this is the last time let’s make this one a good bye,” she repeats during these closing moments). On the surface, the song is an adieu to a lover, but it takes on more meaning as the end of the highly anticipated final installment of a series that didn’t pan out exactly as planned.
Though parting is such sweet sorrow I, for one, am happy to see the Jaguar era come to a close. Monét’s elevated artistic vision in this two-part series (particularly with its second entry) demonstrates that she is ready to bid this era farewell and begin prowling for even bigger dreams. With her first solo Billboard chart in her back pocket and her first-ever solo headlining tour underway, Monét is walking away from Jaguar with enough momentum to propel her into her next project, whenever it arrives. If this stellar goodbye is indicative of anything, fans should be excited for when next she’s ready to pounce.
VOICE’S CHOICES: “Smoke,” “On My Mama,” “Stop (Askin’ Me 4Shyt),” “Good Bye”